John Duke is Renaissance man, at home in the boardroom and weight room, crunching numbers or building opportunities for generations to come.

John Duke is Renaissance man, at home in the boardroom and weight room, crunching numbers or building opportunities for generations to come.

Known in the Rogue Valley for efforts ranging from banking and air services to promoting the arts, hospitals and education, Duke, 75, was commended for his many contributions Thursday night when he was named "First Citizen" by the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County at its annual awards dinner.

"He's a quiet, positive influence on many aspects of the community," said Bob Hutchins, who introduced Duke. "From the philanthropy side to the many community organizations he has helped, ranging from hospitals to Kids Unlimited to faith-based education, as well as the support of numerous individuals given financial support; to say nothing of his mentoring skills."

Duke, who celebrated 51 years of marriage to his wife, Marilyn, earlier this year, arrived in the Rogue Valley in 1970, secured a real estate license, opened an accounting firm in Rogue River, and soon became a partner in a recreational vehicle sales firm in 1972.

In 1978, Duke launched Superior Athletic Club, which now has two Medford locations and one in Eagle Point. In March 1992, Superior Air Charter took to the sky and now is coupled with Million Air as a fixed-base operator at the Medford airport. "Superior Air and Million Air have had a big impact on the airport in the area of private aviation, and the athletic facilities have grown over the years," Hutchins said in an interview. "In both cases, other people have come and gone, and he has been stable. He has the willingness to be patient and take the long view through various cycles we see."

Duke was chairman of the board at the Bank of Southern Oregon, which later merged with Douglas National Bank to form PremierWest Bank, where he became chairman of the board.

He is a founding board member of the Gordon Elwood Foundation, which provides grants to a variety of local social service and education groups. He has supported Northwest Medical Teams, World Vision and the Alliance Defense Fund. And the Dukes have contributed to Azusa Pacific University, George Fox, Northwest Christian University and Grace Christian Schools, among other academic institutions.

"People who really know John at all respect him," Hutchins said. "They know he's a fair and honest person; consequently, any advice he has for them is straightforward and heartfelt, based on years of experience and intellect."

Duke learned much of his entrepreneurial skills from his father, who was the mayor of Colton, Calif., and ran a dry-cleaning business, and his mother, who was a milliner in Southern California.

He later earned an accounting degree from Cal Poly Pomona and worked as a hospital auditor for a regional accounting firm before moving to Southern Oregon.

"The most telling thing to me about John is his deep personal faith and commitment to his family," Hutchins said. "Those have always come first. He loves ... a light practical joke. When you're sitting next to him at Rotary, you may find silverware in your coat pocket that was hanging over a chair. He doesn't mind when the tables are turned and someone pulls a joke on him — he loves a good laugh."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or